MULTIVITAMINS: ARE THEY WORTH TAKING?
When the subject of a supplement comes up, most people automatically think of multivitamins. In past news letters I have discussed what I consider to be the two most important supplements to have in your house, antioxidants and fish oil. Today, I want to take a closer look at multivitamins.
WHAT ARE MULTIVITAMINS?
Vitamins are organic compounds that occur naturally in plant and animal tissue. In the human body they are essentially coenzymes (molecules that help facilitate enzyme reactions). We build millions of molecules daily with the help of enzymes. Our body has the amazing ability to manufacture certain molecules if they are not found in the diet by converting one molecule to a different one, all with the help of enzymes. (Essential amino acids and essential fatty acids would be an exception. We must get these from the diet.) If we have a lack of vitamins in our diet, we can slow down or decrease the number of enzyme reactions and thus compromise normal healthy function.
DO WE REALLY NEED TO SUPPLEMENT?
Historically the medical community has held the opinion that supplements were really unnecessary if you eat a healthy diet. Unfortunately, our soils are not what they used to be. According to a Rutgers University study, it now takes 19 ears of corn to equal the nutritional value of just one ear of corn grown in 1940. It takes 80 cups of today’s supermarket spinach to give you the same iron you would get in just one cup grown 50 years ago. Our soils have become vastly devoid of minerals and some are essentially sterile. The only thing that stimulates plant growth is the chemical fertilizers they dump on the soil. Fortunately, organic farming is changing all of this. Organic farming rebuilds soil through composting and crop rotation and the results show in the nutrient content of the produce. Organic snap beans have 30 times the manganese, 22 times the iron, and 23 times the copper of the conventionally grown variety. Organic cabbage has four times the calcium and four times the potassium of conventional cabbage. Organic lettuce is five times higher in calcium, 50 times higher in iron, and 170 times higher in manganese. So if you often wonder if organic is worth the expense, I say no question! I try to eat as much organic as I can but it is hard to make it 100%. Even with this I still think taking a vitamin supplement is worth the investment. The nutritional content of our food supply has been on the decline for many years and the stress of dealing with environmental toxicity continues to rise. In short, we are what we eat and it is all about the amount and quality of nutrients we consume.
Nutrition is the best investment you can make when it comes to your health and, in my opinion, health is everything.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ONE BRAND AND THE NEXT?
There are so many different brands that most people often buy what they see advertised on TV or what is on sale at their local store. Unfortunately, these are often not the best options. Poor quality vitamins are not only poorly absorbed but can do more harm than good.
Historically, multivitamins have been a combination of pure (mostly synthetic) vitamin extracts put together with a binding agent and called a multivitamin or multivitamin/mineral complex if minerals were added. These formulations do not resemble any type of real food when they reach your stomach and if your stomach is empty, will most often make you feel a little bit nauseated. You will be fortunate to absorb half of what you take; the rest gets excreted through the kidneys and down the sewer.
What are the alternatives? Getting an all natural vitamin is rare. The cost are prohibitive for direct extraction from plant sources. There is something called Co-natural vitamins that are derived from plant and animal sources through the use of solvent extraction, distillation, hydrolysis, or crystallization–but by definition, have not undergone any conversion or chemical alteration during the extraction process.What is more important is to get one that is built in a food matrix, meaning the vitamins are combined with a whole food containing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. This makes the supplement much more bio-available to absorption while reducing or eliminating stomach irritation. How do you tell if your vitamin is in a food matrix? It should have some information on the label indicating a whole food content. A label with Natural or even Organic means nothing in the supplement industry. Many so-called natural vitamins have synthetics added to increase potency or to standardize the amount in a capsule. They also might add a salt form of the vitamin to increase stability. These synthetics are easily identified by the terms acetate, bitartrate, chloride, gluconate, hydrochloride, nitrate, and succinate. If you are still not sure, take a full dose on an empty stomach. If it is in a food matrix you should experience little or no stomach nausea. In my opinion, if you are going to take vitamins, a whole food vitamin should be your only choice.
HOW MUCH DO YOU TAKE?
Most people have heard of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) established by the US government. These values were established on the basis of how much a person should consume daily to prevent a major disease. (Caused by a deficiency of that vitamin such as Vit C and Scurvy) The problem is the studies did not look at the effects of long term deficiencies or factor in such things as stress or exposure to environmental pollution etc. Despite these low values, a USDA survey of 22,000 people found that not one single person consumed 100% of the US, RDA, from the foods they ate. All vitamins list the strength of individual vitamins in the supplement along with the percent of the recommended daily amount of that vitamin. I would consume between 50-100% of theRDA on a daily base from your supplement alone. (In the antioxidant vitamins like E and C I would take several hundred times the RDA if you are not taking a separate antioxidant supplement already) If you eat an extremely healthy diet of organic food you could decrease this amount by half. If your stress level is high and you are not getting enough sleep or the nutrition you should, increase it by 50% to 100%.
As I have said in other letters, I often prioritize vitamins in order of importance for those who have a budget. My top two are a toss-up for the number one slot; that would be a good whole food antioxidant and a good quality fish oil. I think they are both essential in today’s world. If there is still room in your budget after these two, add a good food based multivitamin/mineral complex. In most cases, this should give you a complete nutritional support system. The only other thing I would add would be some extra Vitamin D in the winter when we don’t see the sun for days at a time (or sometimes weeks at a time). I would recommend about 4000 IUs/day.
All of the recommendations I have made here and in previous letters are for supporting normal health. People who have had health problems in the past or are currently fighting a disease would benefit from higher doses of similar molecules as well as some specialized nutrients that are available as an immune support. I am always available to answer questions to the best of my ability so don’t hesitate to contact me or consult a good Naturopath in your area.
Yours In Health
Dr. Roy Murrell, DC 200 NE 20th Avenue, Suite 140 Portland Oregon 97232 - disclaimer - 971-312-9497